Return of the Zombies: Hearing Secrets and Secret Fears of the Undead

Hearing Economics killed off its Zombie Series last year with these chilling words:

The market for zombie posts has reached saturation at Hearing Economics.  Today marks the final resting post of this over-exposed zombie series.

And yet … it’s baaaack as the undead series lurches into yet another post.


What Came Before


Post #1 (2012) considered the Zombie Condition as a progressive disease process which affects ears and hearing, resulting in disability, stigma, and– ultimately–severe handicap.   Hearing Economics was first to recognize and demand hearing aid treatment as an Essential Zombie Health Benefit:

Deep canal fittings are a must, since their ears are going to fall off.

Post #2 (2013) evaluated the Zombie Market potential for audiologists who wanted to expand and grow their practices, as well as add speciality services to their offices.

“These days, if you want to sell something, you add zombies.”

It also summarized the little that was known at the time about Zombie cochlear and VIIIN function:

  • They cannot regenerate hair cells in vitro or in vivo.
  • All zombies have total, irreversible auditory neuropathy.

Post #3 (2014) analyzed microtargeting techniques for segmenting Zombie hearing health markets, offering

suggestions and ideas to help audiology practices gain a better understanding of zombies’ hearing care needs by offering basic, specialty, and secondary services; expanding sales of hearing aids; and developing the market for hearing care accessories.

Toward those ends, the post underscored the need for more, highly-trained audiology providers for this underserved market.

Our membership organizations have a duty to develop Zombie Audiology Specialty Board Certification (ZASC) immediately.

Most importantly– and a key reason for resurrecting this series– the post issued a plaintive cry for data:

What zombies, neuroscientists, and audiologists need is good audiometric and epidemiological data on swarms of zombies from all walks of unlife.


Still in the Dark Ages


When it comes to collecting reliable, valid zombie data, we’re still medieval.  Hypotheses are being generated, but almost all resulting claims about Zombie hearing use inductive reasoning based on observations in vivo, or whatever the correct term is for observing organisms in the living dead{{1}}[[1]]It’s not ex vivo or in vitro.  Maybe in muerto? Readers, please advise.[[1]].

Basic observations, along with questionable, contradictory, or illogical assertions include the following:

  • “If zombies hear, they must also feel.”  (Zombie Research Society). This logic confuses sensing of low frequency vibration in the peripheral auditory system with touch perceptions via skin receptors.  They’re not analogous: a bowl full of jello will respond to vibration without feeling it, much less hearing it.
  • “There is no question that zombies have excellent hearing. Not only can they detect sound – they can determine its direction. The basic range appears to be the same as that for humans.” (
    • “Experiments with extreme high and low frequencies have yielded negative results.” (NOTE: negative results do not prove positive results for untested frequencies, such as those in the human auditory frequency range)
    • “Tests have shown that zombies are attracted by any sounds, not just those made by living creatures… ghouls will notice sounds ignored by living humans.” (NOTE: attraction and notice are not measures of hearing sensitivity; attention is not the same as perception).
    • “The most likely, if unproven, explanation is that zombies depend on all their senses equally.” (NOTE: You can claim anything until proven otherwise).
  • Zombies discriminate sounds, their frequency sensitivity curve in not know, their hearing is directional.{{2}}[[2]]Comentale EP & Jaffe A (Eds). This Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center. Indiana Univ Press, Bloomington, IN: 2014.[[2]]
    • “While zombies do not possess a spoken language… they do exhibit a shared comprehension that a zombie howl (‘primary stimulus’) signals’ humans are nearby.” (NOTE:  Agreed)
    • “All zombies within hearing range (it is unknown if zombie hearing ability is either compromised or augmented by their condition) will inevitably begin to move toward the [primary stimulus sound] source.” (Note:  This is not evidence of directional hearing ability.  Maybe they’re just following the other zombies.)

Scientific Method is Unearthed, Sort of


Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as one intrepid gamer discovered when he needed to kill zombies.  He mapped zombies’ hearing by distance from the signal, as explained in a Youtube video (below).  Findings indicate that Zombies are omnidirectional, not directional, hearers{{3}}[[3]]See video, 2 min 40 sec point.[[3]], probably due to their loss of pinnas{{4}}[[4]]See following section for more on this sad fact[[4]].

Zombies’ “circle of hearing” diminishes as the radius expands, though the gamer did not test the inverse square law or measure sound pressure levels of signals.  Nevertheless, zombies heard human footsteps in the near field but not in far field, where their auditory awareness was limited to toppling trees.  Interestingly, at the remote edge of their hearing, zombies reportedly are “off responders” that do not perceive onset or continuous signals.

More research is needed in more controlled settings with better stimuli and a control group of Zombies with intact pinnas.

Most encouraging of all is ongoing work at University of Maryland where Mathew Goupell, PhD (Physics) teaches Hearing and Speech Sciences 634: Anatomy and Physiology of the Auditory and Vestibular Systems. The course syllabus wisely advises students that:

“Understanding the auditory processing of both the living and the dead will keep you alive in any type zombie apocalypse. … A deep understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the auditory and vestibular systems are crucial for correct clinical diagnoses (on both living and dead patients).”

Hearing Economics urges all graduate programs to adopt this course as part of their core curricula.


Zombie Ears at Risk
Fig 1. Execrable zombie hunter festooned with zombie trophy ears.

Audiologists have a duty to come to the aid of Zombies with hearing loss.  But, they have an even greater duty to halt the ear carnage wrought by zombie killers (Fig 1). These poorly dressed and utterly despicable human beings view zombie ears as death portals.

Without a weapon like a large axe, or sledgehammer, attacking the forehead, top, or back of the skull is not recommended….The sides of the head, eyes, ears, and crux of the neck are better targets.

Even if the zombies survive, they do so without their pinnas. Reprehensible zombie hunters sport ear necklaces made up of zombie pinnas strung together (Fig 1), channeling Walking Dead actor Daryl Dixon.  These low lifes make their own “Cheap Walking Dead Ear Necklaces” by following step-by-step instructions on Youtube.  

Zombies have good reason to fear for their unlives, not to mention their ears.  It is difficult to know whether zombies or trophy-seeking humans pose the greater threat to humanity, alive or deceased.

Audiology Doctors Can Help


Hearing healthcare has gone from a luxury to a right for many, including zombies.  In that view, anyone who can’t hear deserves better hearing and anyone with a missing pinna or two deserves devices with directional microphones.

Audiologists have their work cut out for themselves.  They can thank obsessed gamers and professionals like Dr. Goupell for leading the way. As Dr. Goupell advises his students, audiologists must understands the anatomy and physiology of patients, alive or dead, in order to make correct diagnoses.  That, in turn, enables correct treatment, including hearing aids for the pinna-challenged.

It’s time to get those zombies past the hunters, into our labs and clinics, and start collecting the psychoacoustic and consumer data needed to determine what zombies hear, how they hear, how long they hear, what they want to hear, and how and when they want to hear it.

Then, and only then, can Hearing Economics bury this series for good.  Please help.


images courtesy of zombie research society,  bricks of the dead


About Holly Hosford-Dunn

Holly Hosford-Dunn, PhD, graduated with a BA and MA in Communication Disorders from New Mexico State, completed a PhD in Hearing Sciences at Stanford, and did post-docs at Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Eaton-Peabody Auditory Physiology Lab (Boston). Post-education, she directed the Stanford University Audiology Clinic; developed multi-office private practices in Arizona; authored/edited numerous text books, chapters, journals, and articles; and taught Marketing, Practice Management, Hearing Science, Auditory Electrophysiology, and Amplification in a variety of academic settings.

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